By Georgina Melia |
The bright lights of the 2021 season are on the horizon, and we’re here to give you 10 things you should look out for this season, whether you’re a newcomer to the sport or returning for another year!
1. Ferrari’s performance
It’s safe to say Ferrari’s performance was unforgettable for the wrong reasons last season—finishing 6th in the constructor’s championship. Ferrari and its drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr, have promised the power unit has made advancements from the season prior, however, the car didn’t look overly quick during pre-season testing in Bahrain. Then again, timings at testing have to be taken with a pinch of salt, and Carlos Sainz, replacing Sebastian Vettel, may reinvigorate the team with the competition between the two drivers fuelling performance. Will Ferrari continue to look like a midfield team, or will they make it back up to the top?
2. Pierre Gasly
With a couple of podiums now under his belt, Gasly is certainly someone to watch. If Ferrari underperforms, Alpha Tauri will certainly be moving into that void in a car that ended last season pretty strong. Gasly has a more confident, established position in the team, and he is joined by rookie Yuki Tsunoda from Formula 2. Alpha Tauri does not have the outright pace to be in podium battles, but if there are issues at the front of the grid, they will certainly enter the fray, under the confidence, leadership, and flair of Pierre.
3. Sergio Perez at Red Bull
Ever since Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull in 2018, they have been trying to find a second driver that can match and compete with Max Verstappen. They’ve tried Gasly and Albon, and now it’s Perez’s turn to see if he can keep the seat. Perez has a lot of experience (he debuted in 2011) and has a hunger to prove and establish himself as a podium contendor. Red Bull is not patient, and I imagine Perez will have to start matching, or getting close to, Verstappen’s qualifying times and race positions very quickly into the season before eyes start to wander elsewhere for a replacement. If Perez can perform, it may give Red Bull the chance to challenge Mercedes’ reign.
4. Mercedes Performance
Speaking of Mercedes, testing did not go too well for them in Bahrain. Out of all teams, they totted up the least amount of laps across the weekend. During Friday testing, Valtteri Bottas experienced a gearbox issue that lost him a lot of time and across the weekend, the Mercedes car seemed to be fighting with both drivers—rear grip a big issue. It was enough to send Hamilton spinning into the gravel on Saturday morning’s session, causing a red flag. You could argue that Hamilton’s poor testing on Friday, in particular, was created by the sandstorm conditions, however, other drivers seemed to have much more control which leaves us questioning the Mercedes’ performance. Mercedes have also admitted to focusing more largely on the 2022 car (as there has been little regulation change between 2020 and 2021) and it begs the question of whether the teams around Mercedes have advanced or stayed stationary. It is still a quick car, undoubtedly, but it is designed to work most effectively with little traffic in front of it, and if these teething issues continue into the season, Red Bull will be ready to pounce on any—and all—mistakes.
5. Williams vs Haas
Now for a battle closer to the other end of the grid. Williams has been making incremental gains for a few seasons now, largely through George Russell’s spectacular qualifying performances, but it has not translated itself into Sunday race pace. Promising developments were shown during testing, but of course, testing and actual grand prix conditions are very different beasts. Haas finished 9th last year with Williams bringing up the rear. Haas, this year, however, has two new rookies: Mick Schumacher (great to see a Schumacher back on the grid) and Nikita Mazepin. Haas has also stopped developing the ‘21 car in January and does not plan on bringing any new developments across the season, so if Williams can performin the races, it could be their chance to rise up the order. I think it will be a very interesting dynamic near the back end of the grid.
6. 23 Races and Reliability
I believe reliability is going to play a big role this season, especially near the latter end. There are going to be 23 races this year, stretching from April to December, across five continents. It could be an opportunity for certain teams to haul more points than expected if competitors surrounding them have reliability issues. Furthermore, with some teams supplying other team’s engines, if there were particular engine manufacturing faults, it could end up with some interesting races and, indeed, podiums.
7. McLaren remain top of the midfield?
McLaren did an incredible job last season, finishing third and securing the ever-positive asset of Daniel Ricciardo. They also have now changed engine partners, moving from a Renault engine to a Mercedes engine. They showed good pace during testing and have made some successful upgrades to the car. I think the increasingly confident Lando Norris and multi-race winner Daniel Ricciardo make for a very competitive line-up, and the extra pace the engine seems to have added will make McLaren’s battle with the other midfield teams—Aston Martin, Alpine, Ferrari (arguably)—a tense one. Perhaps we will see a return to the successful McLaren x Mercedes partnership we saw in the 2000s…
8. Sebastian Vettel
If you thought Ferrari’s season was more grey clouds than rainbows last season, then it was much worse for the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. His much younger teammate Charles Leclerc was beating him in almost every area, and he was spending more time racing on the track with his ex-Ferrari teammate Kimi Räiknönnen in the Alfa Romeo than at the front. His move to Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) is critical. The criticism from his Ferrari season last year was mitigated through the poor car, knowing his seat was already taken by Sainz before the season started, and the unsettled year. If Vettel commits the same mistakes that he did for much of the last season, then his days at the top, and perhaps even in the sport, may be over.
9. Fernando Alonso
Fernando is back on the grid! Whether you like him or not, it is always exciting to see a name like Alonso’s back in the sport. He has done a lot of training for this season, and fracturing his jaw in February hasn’t seemed to stop his impetus. After an unsuccessful campaign with McLaren a few years ago, it will be interesting to watch his performances across the season in the new Alpine (formerly Renault). Renault was fairly strong across last season but lost out to McLaren and Racing Point in the end. However, a combination of rebranding, the continuity from fellow teammate Esteban Ocon, and a world champion’s experience and knowledge could help their push for third. And who knows? Perhaps Alonso will find himself on the podium and we will see his famous celebrations again.
10. Lewis Hamilton, Eighth World Championship?
Now, this is certainly a hard one to predict. Hamilton was spectacular last season, qualifying and racing very consistently. While the Mercedes at testing certainly did not look its best, that may not translate itself when we begin the season. I think Red Bull will challenge Mercedes more directly this season, especially if Perez is the right fit for the team, but the racing might of Hamilton is not to be underestimated. I see a tighter fight for the championship this year, but Hamilton feels at the peak of his career now, and I think the 2021 season will see him break the final coveted record: the most world championships in Formula One history.